When is it beneficial to use real people in fiction? Are there rules? Can you make a good person into a dubious character—a villain even? How much can you bend the “real” history? Is there any instance it would be unwise to use a real person, or a time you might go too far?
In my Witch of the Cards, set in 1932 I injected multiple real life characters: Salvador Dali, Elsa Schiaparelli, Irene Ware and Bela Lugosi to name a few. They were mainly in the scenes aboard the Morro Castle ocean liner that sailed from Manhattan to Cuba. I wanted to show that even during Prohibition, the glitterati of high society found a way to drink. The laws that held on solid ground, were not punishable when on the high seas, or in Cuba. I also put these creative souls in to lighten the dark days that my poor character Peter Dune endured. He got to party with these folks and lounge on a Cuban beach. Who wouldn’t want to party with the madcap Dali?
|Dickens at work
So, the upshot is that one should think deeply about who and WHY they want to write real folks into their historical fantasies. Some benefits are:
*Grounding the story historically and vividly.
*Opening out a period of time in order to look at it from a fresh vantage point.
*Giving a side character his or her due. (Similar to Fan Fic)
*Imagining an alternative history.
*Giving an entire period of history its due using people from the time.
*Imagining two peers who never atually met. Having them meet and carry out a friendship, a love relationship, a rivalry, a freaking crime!
It’s fun to think of angles, right? Can you think of more reasons to utilize real historical characters? Have you ever wanted to put a real person from history into your stories? If so, who might be the most fun? The most unnerving?